After serving three years here in the legislature, Sen. Howard Denis knows public attention is a precious commodity in a town where 188 local politicians annually parade their derring-do.
So it is with a certain amount of bemusement that Denis, a Montgomery County Republican, has seen his moment in the spotlight arrive this month by way of his admittedly trivial proposal to alter the lyrics of "Maryland, My Maryland," the state's official song.
"I'm astonished," he maintains. "I spent 100 hours last year working on legislation of major importance, and nobody noticed. And now I put in this little old bill and it gets more attention than anything I've done."
Indeed, Denis' attack on the state song -- which says of Maryland, "Huzza! She spurns the northern scum!" -- has catapulted him onto network broadcasts and news columns across the country, in addition to interviews on most local television stations.
But he should not be surprised. His new-found fame has only helped to perpetuate a phenomenon of this and most other state legislatures: the media event bill, created both by and for the television cameras and newspapers that are never far from legislators' minds.
It is nurtured by both politicians and reporters, and it characteristically turns up early in the session, when both groups are looking for ways to fill time.
For reporters, these trivial, often deliberately frivolous bills provide a respite from the intricate, often tedious discussions of budgets and taxes that usually fill their days and their reports to editors and readers.
Legislators know that, and amid all the competition for recognition in Annapolis, they realize that one bill on the state symbol or the state hobby or in the cause of insects will bring them more recognition than any amount of dutiful work on committees and task forces.
And for state legislators, name recognition -- of virtually any kind -- remains a key factor in reelection campaigns and prospects for higher office.
"It's a nice little move to make," noted Sen. Victor Crawford last week as he paced the Senate's lounge and stared in envy at the prominent display given to Denis' song bill in The Baltimore Sun.
"Guys do this every year. You stick a bill in like this, the television cameras show up, you get big play . . . it's nice and simple."
So it was that last year, amid all the news of tax cuts, budget surpluses and Metro financing, followers of the state legislature were treated to stories about a proposal to divide Prince George's County in half and a resolution to study discrimination against fat people.
This year the overweight issue is back again, and has already brought its sponsor, Del. Raymond Dypski (D-Baltimore City) exposure on network radio and NBC's "Saturday Night Live" show.
There is more to come. A plan by Del. David Scull (D-Montgomery) to eliminate most of the seats in the legislature through constitutional reorganization is already attracting notice.
And then there is Del. Robin Ficker, the Montgomery County Republican who has introduced so many frivolous media-event bills that most of them have failed to become media events.
Ficker was successful on one proposal -- to change the state sport from jousting to running. That bill was killed by a 16-1 vote in the House Environmental Matters Committee, but not before a public hearing -- replete with costumed jousters and star joggers -- that drew reporters from across the state.
Of course, part of the ritual of introducing such bills is for legislators to deny, in great earnestness, that they were motivated by crass considerations of publicity. And Ficker is no exception.
"I put it in because running is important to me," he said. "I run every day on the steps of the Naval Academy and no reporters cover that.
"Besides," Ficker complained, "you never know when you're going to get covered for something. I put in a bill this year to shorten the length of trucks, and tried to get some coverage, but nobody would do it."
Denis, for his part, says it was his interest in history that caused him to put in the state song bill, which was killed by a 6-to-2 vote this week in the Constitution and Public Law Committee. In retrospect, he says, he is beginning to wish his attempt to rewrite the song has not made so much history in itself.
"I've gotten letters from people in other parts of the country asking if I don't have something better to do than write songs," Denis explained with a tired smile. "I just hope people put it all in perspective with the other work I've done."